It was announced yesterday that Felipe Massa, 35, is set for a sensational return to the Williams team for 2017. This is despite the fact that the Brazilian announced his retirement from the sport at the Italian Grand Prix this year. After the grid seemed to be pretty much set after Abu Dhabi changes and rumours seem to be coming in thick and fast.
I’m sure you have many questions, I know that I did when I first heard this.
Williams Martini Racing already announced their 2017 line-up as Finnish driver, Valtteri Bottas and Canadian rookie, Lance Stroll so why on earth would they change that now?
Well, they haven’t really got much of a choice. A few weeks ago, it was reported that the Grove team had rejected an offer from Mercedes for the services of Bottas to replace the recently retired world champion, Nico Rosberg. The deal apparently included a discount on the German manufacturer’s engines, their reserve driver Pascal Wehrlein and the services of Paddy Lowe once his mandatory gardening leave ended in 2018.
But despite Williams’ stern stance on the matter you feel that Mercedes will get their way with this one. You wouldn’t blame Bottas if he wants to join a works team and the one that has dominated the V6-turbo-hybrid era so far.
So where does Massa come into this?
Well it’s the Martini part of the team name that is crucial to this one as that title sponsorship brings in around £20m to the team. For a non-works team like Williams that is a huge sum of money and losing that backing isn’t an option. As Martini is an alcoholic brand they require a driver in the car that is 25-years-of-age or older. Stroll is 18 and can’t even walk into a bar in Vancouver and legally order a drink. Bottas and Massa (27 and 35) both meet that requirement but Wehrlein (22) does not so he isn’t suitable to be the new senior driver.
Is this official?
In short; no, it’s not yet. It’s being strongly rumoured and you’d imagine that if Bottas moves to Mercedes (likely) then Massa will return to the sport for the next season. This is very much a stop-gap until a more permanent solution is found as most of the drivers that Williams would want to replace Bottas with are already tied down with contracts.
Does it have to be Massa?
It doesn’t have to be Massa, there is no doubt a lot of drivers that would be eager for a seat in the F1 midfield. Williams have three other drivers currently contracted to them, the British trio of Paul di Resta, Alex Lynn and Gary Paffett. Paffett is a very experienced DTM driver but has only been a simulation driver this season and has no time in an F1 car (to my knowledge). Lynn has spent the last two years in GP2, F1’s official feeder category, but has yet to set the series alight. And the Englishman is only 23 so he’s too young for the role anyway.
Lastly, we get to Paul di Resta, the official Williams reserve driver for this year. He’s old enough at 30, he’s had 3 years of F1 experience with Force India and did a solid job in that time. He’s still racing well, achieving fifth in the DTM series this year but I feel that Massa would be a better choice as di Resta hasn’t raced in F1 since before these new engines were introduced back in 2014.
Should he come back?
My heart tells me yes as he’s a very likeable driver but my head tells me no as his send-off in Brazil was a beautiful sight. If you didn’t see it, he was given a guard of honour while walking back to the pits before emotionally embracing his family. With the change in regulations next year an experienced driver should pay dividends as the last time that we had cars this fast was back in 2004 when Massa was driving for the Sauber team.
But if Massa returned and he or the car wasn’t on the pace it could be a sorry return to the spot for the Brazilian. Pat Symonds has also announced that he will leave the Williams team after overseeing a revival in the British team’s fortunes. However, 2016 hasn’t been a good year for the team as they’ve been slowly sliding down the grid and were beaten fair and square by Force India to fourth in the constructors’ championship. Next year, potentially, it could be far worse for Frank Williams’ team, anything could happen next year with regards to the pecking order.
But what do you think? Will Massa return to F1? Should he return? Let me know in the comments below to get your viewpoint across!